Will the State Department sanction China and Russia for human trafficking?

Will the State Department sanction China and Russia for human trafficking?

Every year the State Department issues a report on human trafficking abroad, and this year it faces an awkward challenge in deciding how to deal with two huge countries with poor trafficking records — China and Russia.

In last year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, both China and Russia were on what’s known as the Tier 2 Watch List, which is the second-worst rating a country can receive. The rating is reserved for those countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and also have a high number of trafficking victims and fail to show evidence that that they are working to improve their actions on human trafficking. 

Countries cannot stay on the Tier 2 Watch List forever, and this year the State Department must either promote Russia and China to Tier 2 status or demote those countries to Tier 3, the lowest classification, which is shared by the likes of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Tier 3 status opens those countries to sanctions from the U.S. government.

"I am particularly concerned about the government of China’s record," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. "The government of China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for eight consecutive years in large part because its plan to fight human trafficking is inadequate, unevenly implemented, and the government of China has not been making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards." 

An "automatic downgrade" from the Tier 2 Watch List was added by Congress to the law in 2008. A country can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for two years, after which the president can waive a downgrade to Tier 3 for two more years. Both China and Russia have now reached that limit.

"China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Azerbaijan have now had at least four full years of warning that they would face downgrade to Tier 3 if they did not make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking.  Now their time on the Tier 2 Watch List is up," said Smith. 

Smith has been a longstanding opponent of China’s one child policy, which has resulted in gender imbalances throughout China that create a magnet for the trafficking of women from all over Asia. China also forcibly repatriates North Korean trafficking victims who face severe punishment or death when they are returned to the DPRK.

"The government of China is failing not only to address its own trafficking problems, but is creating an incentive for human trafficking problems in the whole region," he said.

Russia doesn’t have procedures in place to identify and deal with trafficking victims not does it have an overall plan to deal with trafficking, Smith added.

"Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking," the State Department’s 2011 report stated. "The Government of the Russian Federation does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, however, the government failed to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period."

China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for a total of 7 consecutive years; Russia has been on the watch list for 8 years. 

Mark Lagon, the State Department’s former ambassador-at-large for trafficking in persons,  testified that China is the country to watch most out of the 6 countries currently on the Tier 2 Watch List. He said that a huge number of Chinese suffer in the laogai, or "reeducation through labor" prison camps, in China.

"Some local authorities compel children to perform manual labor in farms or factories in so-called ‘work-study’ programs-again notably applied to Uighurs," he said. "Onerous child labor in brick kilns is often left unfound or undisturbed by authorities. Absent addressing a number of these problems, China deserves to finally be placed on Tier 3 after eight years on a so-called ‘Watch List.’"

Logon also said that of all the countries being discussed as possible candidates for downgrade to Tier 3, "Russia is the one which clearly is moving backward, not forward, on addressing human trafficking, despite active U.S. efforts." 

The TIP report is set to come out in June. The State Department’s Office of Monitoring and Combating Trafficking in Persons is run ably by Amb. Luis CdeBaca, but the position of undersecretary of state for civil society, democracy and human rights, which sits above that office, is vacant. That means the final tier evaluations might be adjudicated by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Lagon said

"Burns was particularly kind and frank when I came to Russia in 2008 as ambassador-at-large and he was ambassador to that nation. He confirmed Russian authorities did not look at human trafficking as a human rights matter, instead seeing it as only a security and immigration enforcement matter," he said. "Russia is backsliding, and he should note that."